Interview with Aaron Baughman: IBM’s AI Architect Behind ESPN’s Fantasy Football App

Digital Fantasy Football

We met Aaron Baughman at IBM’s Code NY meetup: “Changing the Game with US Open & Fantasy Football.”  He is an AI Architect as well as a Master Inventor at IBM. He spoke to Disruptive Technologists about his latest passion.

Aaron Baughman: We’re certainly changing the game with tennis data, which is transportable to other types of industries. But in particular, we’re working on Big Data with ESPN Fantasy Football; we’re looking at deep learning. We’re using score projections and score distributions to help people figure out what players they should start, who they should bring off the bench onto their starting lineup. It’s pretty much available around the world. It’s already released. You can find it on your mobile site.

Lauren Keyson: Which site?

AB: If you download the ESPN Fantasy Football App, then you’ll be able to see just the buzz portion of it because it’s in draft mode right now. Once the NFL season starts, then you’ll be able to see all the score projections. Then, at the US Open, we have a lot of different types of activations happening. We’re doing AI highlights where we can automatically measure crowd cheer, look at gestures, we can also measure speech to text and figure out what the level of excitement is around different types of videos and then create highlights.

ESPN Fantasy Football with Watson

LK: Cool! Was it hard to do?

AB: It was certainly very challenging. The different models, the AI was accurate enough…

LK: Why sports?

AB: Well sports seems to be very adaptable to other industries. But also, people tend to come together to watch a sport. Irrespective of social economics, where you’re from. People become very passionate. We want to turn that passion and show how they can use that data to connect with others even more. It is a passion of mine too. I feel very lucky to have fallen into it.

LK: How do you fall into a position like this?

AB: Well, I’ve been at IBM for about 15 years, and I’ve been in sports for 5 of those years.  But I worked in the federal space on the biometrics face recognition, iris, and voice as well as fingerprint. I did that for about 10 years and then I joined the IBM Watson Jeopardy Project and IBM research. After that, we wanted to bring some of those AI technologies into sports, so that’s how I joined.

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